To become a member of Parliament in Kenya means you have very nearly made it into the big time. Local power and prestige are certainly yours, with considerable material rewards.
If you should become a minister or an assistant minister, you have done even better --if you can hold your position with the top man, the president, and his circle of advisers.
Thus, it is very unusual for a member of Parliament (MP) to resign his seat. And that is why Kenya's politically conscious public has been electrified by the resignation of the MP for Bondo, in western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa's biggest lake. Western Kenya is the home of the great Luo community, the second biggest in Kenya after the Kikuyu.
The MP in question, Hezekiah Ougo Ochieng, has resigned his seat in favor of the famous veteran Luo politician, Oginga Odinga (known as "Mr. O. O."). Mr. Odinga was Kenya's first vice-president after independence, serving under Jomo Kenyatta. HE fell out with Kenyatta over the conservative, capitalist pro-Western trend the young country was following.
At that time, Mr. Odinga, who had paid several visits to China and the Soviet Union, was regarded as a radical left-winger. HE formed a radical opposition party, the Kenya People's Union, which was subsequently banned.
In 1969, Odinga was detained by President Kenyatta after violent disturbances in west" ern Kenya when Kenyatta's car was stoned. These came in the wake of the mysterious assassination of Tom Mboya, a popular Luo minister, in Nairobi. The mystery was never satisfactorily cleared up.
Oginga Odinga was released from detention in 1971, but he never regained favor with Kenyatta. HE made several attempts to run for Parliament but for years was not even allowed to become a member of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party, a necessity if he was to run. With the banning of Odinga's old KPU party, Kenya became a one-party state under KANU. all members of the defunct KPU were banned from running for election.
But with the accession to power of President Daniel arap Moi, a non-Kikuyu, after the death of Kenyatta, the attitude toward Oginga Odinga changed Mr. Moi is enormously popular with the Luos of western Kenya, and Odinga, along with many other Luo leaders, gave him enthusiastic support. Odinga, a cotton farmer in his own right, was made chairman of the Kenya Cotton Board, charged with the task of reviving the Kenya cotton industry, which is largely sited in Luo-dominated western Kenya. That was the first step toward Odinga's return to favor.
It was a very small job for this remarkable and venerable man, a former vice-president whose past had been tied up with Kenya's fight for independence. But most political analysts in Kenya believed it was just a beginnign and that President Moi was reserving Odinga for bigger things.
There is little question that President Moi planned from the beginning to manipulate Odinga back into national politics. Odinga will have to fight a by-election, but it seems unlikely that he will be opposed in the new mood of the Luo community for unity and the desire among Luos to have Oginga Odinga back in Parliament as their chief spokesman.
And when Odinga is back in Parliament, many expect the he will be elevated to a ministerial job in a fairly short time. He is now as conservative as any Kenyan.